"Look At Me"

"Look At Me"
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Derek's Autism Symptoms

These were Derek's symptoms at the time of his diagnosis. Some of them have changed or improved; some have not. I will try to explain as I go. He is pretty much a poster child.
Below is a list of Full Autism Symptoms. Children with autism have problems in three main areas: social interaction, language, and behavior. However, no two children with autism have identical symptoms.

Impaired Social Interaction

* Not responding to name (At the time of his diagnosis, Derek did not. He does now--but sometimes you have to say his name several times or snap your fingers to get his attention.)

* Not looking at people (At the time of his diagnosis, he would make fleeting eye glances toward me and people that he knew. He did not look at strangers at all. He still seems much more interested in things than people. If there is a baby on the floor, we have to watch to make sure he doesn't step on the baby.)

* Not smiling - note that normal newborns do not smile for several weeks
(He now smiles and laughs a LOT. He is generally a pretty happy boy.)

* Avoiding eye contact (For a good 6 month period, I couldn't get Derek to look at me at all. I think I spent most of my day saying, "Derek, look at me." Now his eye contact is REALLY good...unless you are trying to get him to do something he doesn't want to do. He still fights eye contact with strangers.)

* Not liking cuddles (I'm lucky. I'm one of the VERY few people who has an autistic child who doesn't mind being touched. Derek actually likes being hugged. :) He doesn't like being touched or held by strangers though. At the time of his diagnosis I was the only one who could touch him.)

* Lack of imaginative play (At diagnosis, he lacked this entirely. All he did was spin wheels and roll cars back and forth. We had to TEACH him how to play correctly through hours and hours of therapy. He has improved a lot, but tends to revert back to rolling cars if given the chance. Regression sucks.)

* Lack of social play (We still have trouble with this. He tries to play with his brother, but doesn't really know how. He more just plays NEXT to him and gets mad when Tyler takes something out of his hands. He has never attempted to play with anyone else other than his therapists.)

* Inability to make friends (see above...he starts preschool in the fall. I'm scared out of my mind.)

* Lack of stranger anxiety (I don't think this applies to Derek. He won't go to strangers. Is terrified of them.)

* Lack of separation anxiety (Once again, doesn't apply to Derek. He FREAKS out when I leave. He's getting better now that he has to be alone with his therapists on a regular basis, but if I'm gone for a length of time, he gets really anxious.)

* Independence - doesn't seek help or interact with others. (Derek seeks help only to get what he needs--milk, food, etc. Other than that, not really. When he wants something he will find me, take my hand and lead me to what he wants.)

* Plays alone (Yep. Most of the time. Unless Tyler is in the mood to pick on him.)

* Unprovoked attacks (Derek didn't do this at the time of his diagnosis, but he has started pushing and kicking both me and Tyler. I'm guessing it has to do with frustration. The lack of ability to communicate has got to be maddening.)

Verbal communication problems

* Inability to sustain conversation (Ummm...Derek can't have a conversation. He's pretty much non-verbal.)

* Appears deaf at times (Yep. I have to snap my fingers or clap my hands or say his names several times to get his attention.)

* Language stereotyped (I'm not sure what this means, but he talks babble--kind of like baby-talk a lot.)

* Repetitive language (No. He doesn't talk.)

* Unusual language (Nope.)

* Not talking (Ahhhh. Here we go. He has a few words. At the time of diagnosis he had a big fat ZERO.)

* Echolalia - only parroting what they hear (Nope.)

* Confusing pronouns - mixing up "I", "you", etc. (Nope.)

Nonverbal communication problems--I'm not sure how this is different from above, but I'm guessing it has to do with other ways of communicating? Derek refused to do the PECS system (Using pictures to communicate) after some initial success. We have had some success with sign language, but it seems he would rather speak. He just has TROUBLE speaking. Words don't come out right. For example, "again" comes out as "adah". And "milk" is "guk." Derek has his own language. If you are around him enough, you pick it up. I speak Derek.


* Unusual or severely limited activities and interests (Yes. Derek is obsessed with cars. Well, actually, anything with wheels. Or anything that spins.)

* Repetitive movements - rocking, hair twirling. (Yep. Derek spins in circles. He twirls MY hair (his isn't long enough!) He rolls his cars back and forth.

* Inflexibility with highly specific routines and rituals (Derek isn't too bad YET, but if we mess up his nap/sleep schedule he goes beserk. And if he doesn't have therapy for a week he regresses TERRIBLY.)

* Overly focused attention on specific objects (Yes. He gets very focused. I'm pretty sure that's why he doesn't "hear" me when I call his name sometimes. If he's looking at a book or playing with his cars, he's in his own world.)

* Lines things up (Derek lines up cars, trains, anything that is alike. I even saw him line up a row of Tyler's toy frogs once.)

Sensory symptoms

Hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli - e.g. taste, sound, etc. (ABSOLUTELY-He likes extreme tastes. Like REALLY salty or sweet or cheesy...He only eats crunch foods. He won't touch anything wet, like noodles. He doesn't eat bread or yogurt or anything like that. He hasn't eaten meat since he was about 15 months old.)

* Reduced or increased sensitivity to pain (His pain tolerance is weird. He doesn't seem to notice a tiny cut, but getting blood drawn at the doctor's office is a nightmare. He can't handle having even a BAND-AID on his skin, let alone an IV in his arm.)

* Extraordinarily sensitive to sensations (You should see how traumatic a haircut is...Oh, and tags in shirts? Don't get me started.)

* Self-mutilation (Bangs his head against things.)

Early symptoms of possible autism

* Regression - negative change from normal early development into impaired abilities; about 20% of cases have a regression
* Delayed development - slow to speak
* No babbling by 12 months
* No gesturing by 12 months
* No single words by 16 months
* No two-word phrases by 24 months
* Loss of language skills already acquired
* Loss of words
* Loss of social skills already acquired
* Tantrums
* Hyperactivity

As far as early symptoms go, looking back I feel like an idiot for not catching it sooner. Derek didn't point. He didn't wave. He didn't clap. He didn't speak. He regressed--he stopped babbling and stopped looking me in the eye. The few social skills he had acquired disappeared. When we had company, Derek escaped to his own room. He was obsessed with his cars and had to have two identical ones in his hands at all times (he still does when we leave the house). If I took one of the cars out of his hands, he threw a tantrum...I was blind. How could I NOT see that my child was autistic? Because I didn't know the symptoms. I had no idea what to look for.